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What Happens if You Pass Away Without a Will?

Vintage / retro style with a long shadow : Fountain pen, a pocket watch on a last will and testament. A form is printed on a mulberry paper and waiting to be filled and signed by testator / testatrix.

If you pass away without a will, you are considered to have passed away “intestate,” and all of your property then becomes subject to the rules of intestate succession. Virginia law will dictate how your property gets distributed to potential heirs. Rather than you having a pre-appointed estate executor, the commonwealth will select someone to do the job — typically a surviving spouse or an adult child.

In most cases, the only people who are able to inherit property passed down through intestate succession are spouses, registered domestic partners, children, and other blood relatives. Unmarried partners, friends, charities and distant relatives do not receive anything. If no relatives are found, the state assumes possession of all assets.

Who specifically can inherit? 

In Virginia, your intestate estate generally passes entirely to your surviving spouse. But if you are survived by children (or their descendants) who are not your surviving spouse’s children, two-thirds of your estate go to your children and the descendants of any deceased child, and one-third goes to your spouse.

There are certain legal definitions of who qualifies as a spouse or a child when it comes to intestate succession. To qualify as a spouse, the person must have been legally married to the deceased at the time of death. If the couple had separated or begun the divorce process before one of the spouses died, judges will have to use their own discretion as to whether the survivor is considered a surviving spouse for the purposes of estate administration.

Children who can inherit assets and property include natural-born children and legally adopted children. Stepchildren who have not been legally adopted do not have a legal claim to property when their stepparent passes away intestate. The same goes for foster children.

What happens if heirs have already passed away? 

If the heir was a close relative to the deceased, his or her children could potentially inherit at least a portion of what the parent would have received.

There are often survivorship requirements under intestate succession laws. For example, an heir might be required to live a certain amount of time after the deceased person’s passing. That period is typically five days.

To learn more about intestate succession laws and how you can avoid these complications with a will, speak with a central Virginia estate planning attorney at Miller Law Group, PC.